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Tales from Vietnamese Nail shops in America

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson with Laura Folger

  • Listen with RealAudio: 14.4, 28.8, or G2 SureStream.
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  • Or Even See the French Manicure Photo Gallery
  • Read "Mother's Devotion", a Vietnamese folk-song


    Interview at Evergreen Lan Tun is interviewed at Evergreen Beauty College

    "My name is Shirley. In Vietnam, my name was Hang. Hang means Lady on the Moon. I came here in 1983. Just by myself at 14. I escaped by boat to Thailand, to Philippine, then came here. Supposed to be a whole family come together but we separate to small boats but some make it some didn't make it get caught by the communists. We separate. And I was wondering, I asked "where's my mom, where's my mom." The owner say, "She will be here, she will be here." Gone. Two days and two nights on the ocean. Nothing's in my stomach. A lot of people die on the ocean.

    The first month when I come here I was in the General Hospital. Sick, like homesick. Strange, unhappy, by myself. Don't know where to go. Don't know what to do. Just like a dream. Just like a story. Like you cannot imagination. You cannot think about it, but it happened. I lived with a foster parent. I have my own room and a TV she let me have it. Usually I watch a lot of Shirley Temple. I like Shirley Temple a lot. I watch a lot of her movie. She's happy. She's dancin' tap. And she's very pretty lady. The way she act when she was a little girl. A lot of her movie I'm watching. She's very famous, yes.

    When I become US citizen I change directly to Shirley Nguyen. My Vietnamese name kind of like difficult to pronounce, Hang - H-A-N-G. So I changed to Shirley. My life is change so I should change my name too because I live in the United States."

    Shirley Nguyen is a manicurist at JT Nails. As she polishes, she tells her stories - how she got here - what to do about dry cuticles - how she learned her English from tapes - why French Manicure is better than silks - how she lost her family in Vietnam - about the "sad songs" of Vietnam and the sounds of Saigon streets.

    Like Shirley, tens of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants work as manicurists in the United States. The Vietnamese immigrants who train to be manicurists not only acquire a new set of professional skills, but a new identity as well. Sound plays a part in merging into a new life, and preserving in memory what has been left behind.

    The found sounds of their new country - American radio, American television, language study tapes, naturalization tapes, the soundtrack of new citizenship. The lost sounds of home - music cassettes brought from Vietnam, new Vietnamese videos from the Saigon bookstore in a San Jose shopping mall. These audio artifacts and the stories from manicurists in Vietnamese nail salons in California merge in our story French Manicure - Tales from Vietnamese Nail shops in America.

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    Copyright 2000 The Kitchen Sisters